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High Holy days: Jews reflect, repent at start of new year

Updated 6:59 am, Tuesday, September 27, 2011
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As the sun sinks below the horizon at 6:44 p.m. Wednesday, Jews in Westport and the rest of southwestern Connecticut will join the observance of the two-day celebration of Rosh Hashana, their new year.

Rosh Hashana, which translates from Hebrew to English as "Head of the Year," marks the beginning of the Jewish year and, "The anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, it is the birthday of mankind, highlighting the special relationship between God and humanity," according to the website, www.chabad.org.

"It begins a 10-day period of introspection and making amends, which culminates at Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)," said Rabbi Daniel Satlow of Congregation Beth El in Fairfield.

Yom Kippur, the most solemn day on the Jewish calendar, will be observed beginning at sunset Friday, Oct. 7.

The two high holy days are the peak of the Jewish year, said Rabbi Yossi Pollak of Beit Chaverim Synagogue of Westport/Norwalk, a modern orthodox synagogue in Westport. "They represent a time of renewed holiness, renewed commitment to their relationship with God and each other in their communities," he said.

Jews in Fairfield County began the New Year celebration a few days early this year, Satlow said.

On Saturday, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Bridgeport hosted Sheldon Yellen, president and CEO of Belfor, Inc., a worldwide disaster recovery and property restoration company headquartered in Michigan. Yellen was featured on the CBS television show, "Undercover Boss," in which an owner works in disguise at his or her own company to gain insights from the employees.

Satlow said Yellen shared his journey of self-discovery that came from his participation in the show and what he learned by walking in someone else's shoes, tying it to Rosh Hashana. "Empathy is a powerful emotion and nothing creates empathy as much as experiencing the world through someone else's eyes, walking the world in someone else's shoes," Satlow said.

"In addition to the very personal process of reflecting and introspection, this is also a time for communities to reflect on themselves and on the events of the world. We always pray for peace," Satlow said.

Pollak said that his congregation will hold several high holy days services including an explanatory service "geared toward people who are less familiar with the service or are looking to deepen their experience of the holidays," Pollak said. The service features singing and stories, is conducted mainly in English, and takes about an hour.

The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County, based in Westport, holds a unique service for Rosh Hashana every year. "The service is written by members of the congregation. The intention is to be relevant to modern Jewish life," said congregant Beth Ulman.

Sometimes the service is written by several congregants collaboratively and other times, as with this year, one person does the writing. Although the service is different from year to year, Ulman said there are some elements that remain the same. It will be a recognizable service to those who have attended traditional services, she said.

Congregant Marcia Kosstrin, of Stamford, is the author of this year service, which will include a reflection on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It will also revolve around the theme, "How to Make the World a Better Place."

The services and workshops are relevant to contemporary life while also promoting traditional Jewish values, Ulman said.

Because the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism does not have a synagogue, its Rosh Hashana eve service will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Westport Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road.

The Congregation of Humanistic Judaism's annual Taschlich ceremony will be held outdoors on Rosh Hashana, at 2 p.m. Thursday, near the stream next to the sanctuary on the grounds of the Unitarian Church. "This ancient practice, derived from a passage from the prophet Micah, which exhorts us to cast off our sins, reinforces the theme of this holiday, which calls on us to discard those beliefs and behaviors that prevent us from being our best selves," Ulman said.

The service is open to the public. It is free of charge, but reservations are suggested.

The same goes for other congregations' services. "At every synagogue it's the most crowded time of the year," Pollak said. Repentance is returning and it's typically a time for families to get together and attend services together, more so than at regular Sabbath services, he said.

The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism will observe Yom Kippur with a service at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, in the Unitarian Church, where David Shafer, a CHJ member and co-chairman of the Adult Education Committee, will speak about "9/11 and the Experience of Loss."

Yom Kippur day discussions on Oct. 8 will run from 2:15-3:45 p.m., following a 1-2 p.m. Family Service. Yom Kippur concludes with memorial and closing services at 4 p.m. followed by a community break-fast about 5 p.m.

For information about each congregation's Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services visit their websites or call them at www.congbethel.net or 203- 374-5544; www.beitchaverim.com or 203-227-3333, and www.humanisticjews.org or 203-226-5451.